Today’s Deep Space Extra

August 11th, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space ExtraNASA’s Osiris-Rex sample return mission is set to maneuver close to the surface of the asteroid Bennu on Tuesday as part of a major rehearsal. NASA’s Dawn mission reveals surface features on the dwarf planet Ceres similar to those on the Earth and Mars linked to possible habitable environments. A new policy document signals the future course of a U.S. Space Force. 

Human Space Exploration

Russia’s space leader blusters about Mars in the face of stiff budget cuts
Ars Technica (8/10): The head of Russia’s civil space program, Dmitry Rogozin, appears to be over-reaching with recent claims his agency is prepared to launch explorers to Mars within 10 years, with sufficient financing. At the same time, he aspires to build a rocket that could be relaunched 100 times. However, Russia’s civil space program, funded at the equivalent of $2.4 billion annually, is facing potential substantial cuts over the next three years, according to the report.

Space Science

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx is one rehearsal away from touching asteroid Bennu
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (8/6):  Launched in September 2016, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission spacecraft reached the asteroid Bennu in early December 2018 on the agency’s first asteroid sample return mission. On Tuesday, the spacecraft is to dip from its half mile high safe home orbit to rehearse the final stages of the actual brief encounter with Bennu’s surface planned for October 20 to gather a sample. The first in the series of complex automated maneuvers were demonstrated successfully during an April rehearsal.  Tuesday’s “Matchpoint” rehearsal will bring the spacecraft to an altitude of 131 feet before it retreats. If all goes well, OSIRIS-REx would touchdown briefly in October at a site called Nightingale to collect pebbles and soil. The sample is scheduled to be returned to Earth for a parachute assisted landing at the U.S. Army’s Utah Test and Training Range on September 24, 2023.

This giant crater on Ceres with bright spots may be the most fascinating place in the solar system (8/10): A collection of seven research papers published in a spread of Nature journals on Monday assess findings from the final months of NASA’s Dawn mission first to the asteroid Vesta and then to the dwarf planet Ceres. During the mission’s final months, Dawn orbited the Ceres at an altitude of 22 miles with a special focus on the surface features of the 22-million-year-old, nearly 60 mile wide Occator crater. Stereo imagery reveals surface features that evolved thanks to heat from the impact and subsurface water with a chemistry that could have offered a prebiotic, perhaps biotic environment. The findings suggest planetary bodies smaller than the Earth and Mars may undergo hydrogeological processes favorable to the rise of habitable environments.

NASA’s Mars mole is officially “dug in”
Futurism (8/10):  NASA’s Mars InSight lander touched down at the red planet in November 2018 to conduct unprecedented studies of the Martian crust, mantle and core. Soon though, one of the primary instruments, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or “mole” experienced the first in a succession of difficulties hammering its way into the subsurface. The German Aerospace Center, which provided the instrument, reports the instrument is now buried and poised to pound its way to a depth of 10 feet to begin its science mission.

AURA observatory: 5th anniversary of the first dark sky sanctuary in the world
AURA (8/10): Few places in the world offer a better opportunity to view the night sky than the AURA observatory in the Andean mountains of northern Chile. Preserving that view from the intrusion of light pollution is critical and even linked to preventing prolonged exposure to light at night as a threat to the depletion of melatonin levels in humans that may have a link to cancer.

NASA cameras catch early fireballs from Perseid meteor shower of 2020 (8/10): The annual Perseid meteor shower is peaking Tuesday and Wednesday nights. NASA’s All Sky Fireball Network captured images of the display over the weekend. The source is material from the tail of the Comet Swift Tuttle.

Other News

Air Force to end agreements with Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman, prepares for launch contract protests
Coalition Members in the News – Northrop Grumman, United Launch Alliance (8/9): It appears that recent U.S. Air Force contract awards to United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX for the launch of national security payloads could prompt protests from Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman, who were also competing under early phase contracts awarded in October 2018 for development activities through 2024. ULA was also proceeding under terms of the 2018 agreement. A Rand report from earlier this year expressed concerns the Air Force would face diminished competition for the work when it awarded contracts for the upcoming phase.

U.S. Space Force’s first space doctrine signals expansive plans (8/11): The policy document released on Monday is to serve as a guidepost for the future direction of the nation’s newest branch of the military, one that will reach out across the solar system to assist in the pursuit of prosperity and security.

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